Canvas Curiosities

Q. Why should I stretch my own canvas? What’s the advantage over prestretched fine-quality canvas?

A. I’d have to look at the object you define as, “fine-quality prestretched canvas” to see if I agree with your assessment of its quality. Typically, prestretched canvas is made with the hobby painter in mind, not the professional artist. But if you know what to look for it’s possible to find high-quality prestretched canvases.

First, you’ll want a textile of substantial weight with a tight weave. This means the fabric should weigh at least 8 to 12 ounces per square yard, and the weave should be tight enough that no pinholes are evident when the canvas is held up to a strong light source. The presence of holes signifies that priming has been driven from the front of the canvas through to the back, and often denotes a weaker support. If you’re unsure as to whether or not the canvas has these qualities you can ask a reputable vendor, or check the package label.

You should also look for a canvas that contains at least four coats of priming material, especially if it’s an acrylic dispersion primer. Acrylic dispersion primers are relatively porous, so it’s a good idea to have a substantial ground coating.

Finally, make sure that there’s enough fabric left at the edges of the stretcher bars should you need to re-stretch the canvas at some point in the future. Too often, prestretched canvasses are trimmed at the back edge of the bars, leaving only about ? or ? inches of extra fabric, and that’s not enough to grab with a pair of pliers.

If the prestretched and “fine-quality” canvas you’re looking at meets these criteria, then I’d feel confident about using it for quality paintings. To ensure the finest quality support for your painting, however, I suggest that you stretch your own canvas, whether you size and prime raw fabric or purchase preprimed material.

Joanne Moore is managing editor for The Artist’s Magazine.

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